Flamenco Festival 2011: Ballet Nacional de España

By Juliana Accioly

altThe Miami stage will be at full heat this winter when multilayered skirts, the clickety-clack of castanets and rapid-fire footwork will send stage dust flying during the 2011 Flamenco Festival.

After almost a decade, the event will once again host the renowned Ballet Nacional de España, with shows scheduled from February 23 to 26 at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

“The South Florida community enthusiastically embraced Flamenco Festival Miami from the very first soleá, and this year’s engagement sets new records, presenting the largest Flamenco festival production in Adrienne Arsht Center’s history,” said M. John Richard, president and CEO of the Adrienne Arsht Center.

An art form that prides itself of its diverse social, religious, and political roots, Flamenco  is stomping its heels even more explosively since this past November, when UNESCO inscribed the quintessential Spanish genre of music and dance on its list of intangible world heritages to preserve.

“Flamenco’s inclusion on UNESCO’s list is a dream come true,” said Cristina Barrios, Spain’s consul general in Miami. “There is no other art form that better defines the Spanish culture to the world.”

With its origins historically traced to a fusion of outcast cultures – Gypsy, Moorish, and Jewish music and dance that came together with the indigenous Andalusians during the Spanish Inquisition – Flamenco  is a reflection of the multifaceted human reality it derives from. As an art form it is at once sudden and sharp, always spontaneous and at the same time meditative, resembling an act of defiance marked by striking shifts in mood, volume, and tempo.

Central to Flamenco  is the cante, the art of Flamenco  song. Its most compelling spectacle is starkly simple: A lone cantaor  (singer) and a lone guitarist sitting on straight-backed chairs on a bare stage, plumbing the cante jondo  (deep song). It is suspenseful music, building to many climaxes, wavering, hesitating, and finally tumbling forward. Palo Seco is believed to be its original form, where only voice, a primitive cry or chant, is accompanied by the rhythm which is beaten out of the floor by a wooden staff or cane.

Other elements unique to Flamenco – the baile  (dance), toque  (guitar), and the jaleo, the rhythmic punctuation such as hand-claps, finger snapping, and passionate shouts of encouragement – are known to be passed on through family and social tradition, while the spontaneity of the dancer, the bailaor, and the singer’s interpretation of the words ensures that no two performances are the same.

Presently, Flamenco has a hundred different types of pieces within it: The rhythmic bulerias, the Moorish-influenced fandangos, the festive alegrias, and the solemn seguiriyas, among others, which are defined by characteristic melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic structures, each with a characteristic mood and regional variants.

Jose Antonio Ruiz de la Cruz, artistic director for the show, offered an assessment of the state of contemporary Flamenco  in all its nuanced variations.

“Essentially, Flamenco  is everything that cannot be translated into only one emotion. It is pain, freedom, oppression, joy, sensuality, love… Flamenco is a dance that cannot take flight because it requires direct contact with the ground, from where it gathers its energy, which perhaps differentiates it from classical dance.”

Heralded as a world-class choreographer, Jose Antonio has created works for dance luminaries such as Carla Fracci, Julio Bocca, and the dancers of the Kirov Theatre, winning awards including the prestigious Medal of Honor bestowed by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Under his direction, the BNE debuted in the Metropolitan in New York, Cuba and Russia.

Known for his daring and technical approach, the Spanish director was a principal dancer with BNE for many years, before first taking the helm at the company from 1986 to 1992. He served as a director for the Centro Andaluz de Danza and Compania Andaluza de Danza  and was invited to rejoin BNE as a director in 2004.

Having visited Miami on several occasions Jose Antonio said he believes this tour will be special, as BNE will be performing with both established talent and up-and-coming artists. The performances will showcase more than 40 Flamenco  artists, including first dancers Cristina Gomez and Sergio Garcia, principal dancers Elena Algado and Miguel A. Corbacho, and singers Isabel Soto, Manuel Palacin, and Momi de Cadiz.

“Flamenco is in a lot of ways a rigorous art form, but is can also be shaped by the creativity of the artist that makes use of it,” he noted. “It is a talent that one has or doesn’t. There are fantastic Flamenco  artists out there and they all know the unique, fleeting feeling of genius of this dance.”
This year’s installment is steeped in Flamenco ’s history and tradition, and yet brings a modern sensibility, uniting the Andalusian heritage with contemporary expression, explained Jose Antonio. Each performance, held in the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, will include two highlights: La Leyenda, choreographed by Jose Antonio, and Dualia, by the award-winning choreographic team of Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez.

Two aspects – one joyful and public, one intimate and somber – will give the festival an unexpected and unfamiliar twist.

“Flamenco holds an important role in the Spanish culture – its roots in the Andalusian society are more than just a ritual, they are a true expression of its people. As a living art form, traditional Flamenco  has not been forsaken, but it has, nonetheless, evolved with the same rhythm as its people and cultural surroundings,” he said. “The program I chose for Miami is a reflection of that duality.”

La Leyenda is Jose Antonio’s homage to the late Spanish dance legend Carmen Amaya. Known for her impassioned stage presence, the gypsy bailaora became known as the first dance to wear the traje corto, a tight fitting suit, which was normally only worn by men, and her ferocious footwork.

However, Jose Antonio knew Amaya personally as a sometimes fragile spirit, barely five feet tall, whose private moments outside of the spotlight posed a stark contrast to her public image as the universal symbol of the fiery Spanish temperament. La Leyenda tells the story of one woman’s grandeur and solitude, honoring the humanity of the gipsy performer and her immortal legacy.

“In this piece I aim at differentiating the physical and carnal from the spiritual and artistic grandeur of Amaya’s character, which complemented each other,” he explained. “Carmen was and will always be brilliant; everything has changed after her and her shining star will blind us for all eternity.”

In Dualia, Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez express their particular and renewed vision of the “A dos” baile, simultaneously honoring the deep roots of Flamenco  and infusing their choreography with the voice of the next generation: Sensuous duets and rhythmic castanets combined with visually stunning work.

“Ballet Nacional de España is a public institution that at the same time honors the Spanish dance and stimulates the creation of new productions of all its styles. We are a group that will always keep the classics in our repertoire, but we have also earned a distinct international reputation because of our magnificent contribution to not only the preservation but also the dissemination of the Danza.”

Founded in 1978 by the Theater and Entertainment General Direction of the Spanish Ministry of Culture with the name of Ballet Nacional Español, BNE is, among the projects of the National Institute for the Performing and Scenic Arts, one of the most acknowledged in the art world as an ambassador of the Spanish culture.

During its 30-year-old history the group has performed in some of the most renowned theaters in the world, honoring Spanish culture through the preservation of Flamenco  and traditional Spanish dance at its core, while incorporating a fresh, modern flourish that encourages experimentation and the creation of new stage work.

The company’s theatricality – a stylistic mix has garnered accolades including the Critics’ Prize for Best Foreign Show during the 1988 season at the New York Metropolitan, the Japanese Critics’ Prize in 1991, and the Critics’ Prize for the Best Spectacle at the Bellas Artes Theater in Mexico City in 1994, among others.

“The company’s future is directly connected to the development of Spanish dance, which I hope will never cease to expand,” said Jose Antonio. “BNE’s work is key to its advancement and we must maintain a complex array of characteristics, which is what essentially distinguishes the pure Spanish baile from other art forms.”

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